By Tony Gutiérrez, The Catholic Sun
PHOENIX — Sister Maria Kim Bui, a Daughter of St. Paul, has been on a leave of absence from her community since 2021 to take care of her ailing mother. Her father died from COVID in January of that year.
When the Diocese of Phoenix hosted the relics of St. Bernadette – the visionary of the Marian apparition of Lourdes associated with miraculous healings – Sister Maria Kim went to venerate her fellow religious sister at St. Juan Diego Church in Chandler July 31.
“Coming to venerate the relics of St. Bernadette is just so special because it’s a reminder that this life is — with all of our illnesses and sorrows — it’s never the end,” said the religious sister who grew up attending Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe. “Heaven is always closer to us than we can possibly imagine, and really all the joy that awaits us in heaven, that’s what truth really is.”
The relics were on display at various locations throughout the Valley for the faithful to venerate July 29-31. Fittingly, they were first hosted by Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Sun City West, then St. Bernadette Parish in North Scottsdale the following day, and lastly at St. Juan Diego – a church under the patronage of another Marian visionary.
This was the first time that official relics from the Our Lady of Lourdes Sanctuary in France have been on tour in the United States, beginning in Miami on April 7 and ending in Granada Hills, California, Aug. 4.
“The Lourdes water is something that most everyone connects with Lourdes because of its known healings. So, we draw Lourdes water, and we share it with God’s people everywhere we go, and we do a virtual pilgrimage,” said Deacon Dan Revetto, vice president of the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers — the organization that, along with the Order of Malta, accompanied the relics during their U.S. tour. “The water that is shared today is from the sanctuary in Lourdes. Every diocese along this tour has received 20 liters of Lourdes water.”
Deacon Revetto, who also serves at St. John Baptist de la Salle Parish in Granada Hills in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, accompanied the relics in Arizona and California. He also offered a virtual pilgrimage that included slides with a presentation, along with an opportunity for the faithful to bless themselves with Lourdes water and to touch rocks carved from the grotto.
“The Bishop of Lourdes wanted to carve out a little bit more room inside the grotto so that pilgrims in wheelchairs could easily move inside the grotto cave itself,” said Deacon Revetto. “When he did that, he created small rocks, which he entrusted to our apostolate to share with God’s people throughout the world.
“We want to share with the faithful — as close as we can — the experience of being in Lourdes [and] touching the Grotto rock of Massabielle is important,” he added.
In his homily for one of the multiple Masses held July 30 at St. Bernadette, the Very Rev. Don Kline, pastor and dean for the Northeast Deanery, tied in the significance of the parish hosting its patroness’ relics to the feast day — that of Sts. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
“Many, many miracles of healing have happened, countless millions; we know from the millions of pilgrims who have traveled to Lourdes who are spiritually healed,” said Father Kline in his homily. “I don’t know of a greater physical healing than to be raised from the dead. That’s probably about as big as it comes. That was Lazarus’ experience of healing.”
The pastor also noted that in Martha’s grief, she recognized the healing power found in Jesus. In their frustration, Martha and Mary also desire to be healed from grief.
“That is something that all of us can relate to. We feel let down, perhaps, at times when the Lord doesn’t grant us the requests of our heart, our prayers in the way that we want them to be answered,” he said. “Perhaps He wants to grant us a healing that we’ve been praying for, but it is in His most excellent way the Lord will do that. We bring them to Him, just asking for Him and trusting in the promise of His healing mercy.”
Steve Jajou, a member of Mar Abraham Chaldean Catholic Parish, venerated the relics along with his wife, May. Requiring the use of a wheelchair, Steve also sought physical and spiritual healing.
“I believe in miracles, and I believe in saints’ power of interceding for us,” he said.
Father Michael Passo, FSSP, pastor of Mater Misericordiae Parish in downtown Phoenix, brought several of his parishioners to Scottsdale to venerate the relics, including young girls who are a part of the parish’s “Helpers of the Immaculate Heart.”
“St. Bernadette was the one that Our Lady — the Immaculate Conception — came to, so, we wanted to come honor Our Lady through St. Bernadette and reverence those relics,” he said.
“It’s a reminder to us that we need to be open to God’s will and continue to serve as instruments of giving the Gospel message to the world.”
Providentially, John and Rachel Shakal were in town from Wisconsin, where they attend Church of Notre Dame in Chippewa Falls, in the Diocese of La Crosse. The pair had already planned to be in Arizona to be godparents to their nephew, Theodore Yost.
“We happened to find out that the relics would be here this weekend, today, so, we made the trek over,” John said. “St. Bernadette leads us more deeply into that Marian dimension of the heart of Christ and an encounter with God.”
Those venerating the pilgrim relics had the opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence, provided they met the Church’s other requirements.
“It’s a beautiful opportunity for us to experience the faith of the faithful in our church and the power of God’s mercy and love for us as He shows to us in His saints and through our Blessed Mother,” Father Kline told the Sun.
Charlene Abeyta, a St. Bernadette parishioner, has long had a devotion to her parish’s patroness, who is also her Confirmation saint.
“I just wanted to be in the same room with her,” she said. “I felt her presence with me.”
The next day, at the Saturday evening vigil Mass, the Very Rev. Dan McBride, St. Juan Diego pastor and dean for the East Deanery, recounted in his homily the trials St. Bernadette went through.
“She was poked and prodded, and they tested her for every possible thing. They wanted to know, was she crazy? Did she make this stuff up? Is she just having visions because she had some mental illness? The newspapers reported on her, and they wanted to say the most horrible things because they wanted to prove that she was a fraud, that she was making this up. They wanted to prove that,” he said. “Well, 170 years later, they still haven’t proved that she was wrong. … Beginning in those moments — when she said, ‘These waters will be healing waters,’ — millions of people since that time have been going to Lourdes seeking healing.”
As belief in the apparitions spread, Bernadette didn’t want to glorify herself, Father McBride said. Contrasted with the Rich Fool from Jesus’ parable who wanted to store his excess grain for himself, instead, Bernadette avoided the attention, remaining humble and joining the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.
“She heard these words of the Gospel, and she took them to heart,” Father McBride said. “The treasures in heaven are far more valuable and far more permanent than any other kind of treasure.”
For Sister Maria Kim, Bernadette serves as a role model both as a religious and as a caretaker, helping her recognize the ultimate healing is Christ’s mercy.
“Jesus heals us in our prayer all the time, especially through the Mass,” she said. “Coming to these types of things, where we pray for maybe more extraordinary healings, reminds us that God is healing us all the time. That’s what He likes to do with His mercy — He likes to heal us.”